When Zozibini Tunzi moved into the Midtown apartment where Cheslie Kryst lived last December, there might be a certain tension among the roommates.
Ms. Tunzi – the reigning Miss South Africa at the time – had just beaten Ms. Kryst – the reigning Miss USA – in the Miss Universe competition. The rival beauty queens were to be roommates for the next six months until a new Miss USA was crowned in May 2020.
The setup certainly had the potential for awkwardness, if not downright hostility. But the apartment – a sprawling three-bedroom, three-bathroom building in a luxurious concierge building near Central Park South – was too good to be without. Festival winners live there rent free for a year (or a year and a half if Miss USA wins Miss Universe), and weekly household and grocery expenses are also covered. (Both festivals are run by the Miss Universe Organization.)
Ms. Kryst, who moved into the apartment after winning the Miss USA title in May 2019, wasn't concerned. In college, she was often friends with her athletics competitors. In addition, the women travel a lot during their years of reign. “I have barely seen my last roommate in the past seven months. I think we went out for dinner five or six times, ”said Ms. Kryst.
"Of course, if I had known about the pandemic I would have been a lot more stressed," she added.
When the coronavirus hit, both women's travel plans came to an abrupt halt and their list of international appearances went virtual. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, they went from barely in the apartment to barely left.
“We just went to the park for hours. We were too scared to do anything else, ”said Ms. Kryst. "I would wear gloves to the grocery store."
The Miss USA 2020 pageant has been postponed until later this year, meaning Ms. Kryst will keep her tiara, room and roommate until organizers determine it is safe to hold the competition again. The same goes for Ms. Tunzi, as the Miss Universe pageant has been postponed indefinitely.
Fortunately, the two women hadn't spent much time together in the months leading up to the closure, but they had enjoyed each other's company when they did.
"I don't want to lie – you worry that you have an unpleasant person to live in," Ms. Tunzi said. “But we hit it off at the pageant, and I knew my roommate would be Cheslie if I won. While she could have had 90 different people. "
"I was glad it was Zozi," said Ms. Kryst. “People deal with competition differently. Some people are sociable, others are calm. Zozi and I are both cold. We enjoyed being in the formations together. After failing the top 5, I said, "Let it be Zozi."
"She's the best roommate ever," said Ms. Tunzi. "Besides, I'm a bit chaotic."
"I've lived with much more messy people," said Ms. Kryst. “I have four little brothers. It's not that bad. "
Both women lived alone before moving into the apartment. Ms. Kryst, 29, a civil attorney, owned a loft in downtown Charlotte, NC. Ms. Tunsi, 27, who was doing an internship with an advertising company in Cape Town, had never lived with anyone who was not a family member.
$ 0 | Midtown
Zozibini Tunzi, 27, and Cheslie Kryst, 29
Occupation: Mrs. Tunzi is Miss Universe; Mrs. Kryst is Miss USA.
Suitcase storage: Is a problem, despite the size of the apartment and the many closets. Every woman has numerous suitcases because so much work usually involves long journeys and lots of costume changes. Traveling with multiple clothes and a suitcase just for shoes is not uncommon.
Where do you keep your crowns? Ms. Tunzi prefers to keep hers in the nearby Miss Universe offices, but Ms. Kryst keeps hers on the bedside table. "It's a Mikimoto tiara, one of the most iconic designs," she said. "It's embarrassing, but I like to wake up and watch it."
Mrs. Tunzi and pageants: “At 7 o'clock my mother took me to this parade in the church. I was very shy, she wanted me to meet other young girls. But then I loved the feeling of making friends and then the confidence to go on stage. "
Mrs. Kryst and pageants: “My mother was the second black woman in North Carolina, so I knew no matter what I was going to run. I started high school when I was 13 or 14. "
They all agree that the size of the apartment makes it relatively easy to share. Both were surprised at how big the room was when they first saw it.
“Before I came to New York, everyone told me that things are really small. Even the hotel rooms are like shoeboxes, ”said Ms. Tunzi. "I went in and said," This is a huge room. "
"You think New York is 300 square feet, but that's huge," said Ms. Kryst. "With the pandemic, you're getting to the point where you want to be outside, but I have my own room, I have my own bathroom, we have an extra bedroom."
Recognition…via Cheslie Kryst & Zozi Tunzi
The third bedroom, reserved for Miss Teen USA when visiting town, has become a work area – the closet is great for recording voice overs – as is the living room. They had previously used the living room sparingly to catch up between work trips, but now they all shoot their videos there. There's even a teleprompter corner.
Unlike most people who work from home these days, women still spend a lot of time preparing for work – a zoom shirt isn't enough for an appearance on Miss Universe. But they too could relax a little.
"If you do your hair to go somewhere, it really has to get to the point. It's not that difficult in front of the camera," said Ms. Kryst. "And probably the strangest thing is that I haven't had any shoes in a long time – Heels – I've worn more. "
When they go out, they often head to Central Park. They like to walk around the park for banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West Side. The pandemic not only meant getting to know the city better than usual – "People used to say:" What do you like to do best in New York and I thought: "I don't know. I'm at the airport," said Ms. Tunzi – but also to each other .
"We talked about Covid, Black Lives Matter," said Ms. Kryst. “I think we're both women of color and have a real sister in the house. We understand the impact a black person has on the defending champion. When we won, we both had to face rude comments. "
They had been talking about going to a protest against Black Lives Matter when they came across one on a walk to Central Park and took part. “It was really cool to go to someone who valued it as much as I did. Said Mrs. Kryst. "She knows we're in it together."